The public campaign finance system is broken. George Bush and presidential candidate Howard Dean have each turned down public funds, allowing the them to avoid the $45 million spending cap.
Dean has been in favor of campaign finance reform. He asked his supporters to vote on whether to accept or reject the public funds and the accompanying spending restraints. After rejecting the public funding Dean said in a press release, "Unfortunately despite the law’s best intent, it will hinder our reform efforts while rewarding the Bush campaign’s attempts to further increase the power of special interests. It will cap our spending at $45 million, giving the Bush campaign a spending advantage of $170 million, which they will use to define and distort us from March to August."
I believe Howard Dean when he says he is a proponent of campaign finance reform – however you can’t expect him to follow the rules of a broken system. If his opponent is going to raise $170 million more than him, he doesn’t stand a chance.
Publicly financed presidential campaigns started in 1974, after the Watergate scandal, to reduce corruption and equalize spending between presidential candidates. In the 2000 presidential election George Bush opted out of the public campaign funds. It was clear to Bush that he could rake in a lot more than $45 million from his wealthy supporters like Enron CEO Ken Lay and MBNA America Bank CEO Charles Crawley.
Large campaign contributions often come with strings attached. MBNA America Bank and its employees contributed more than $240,000 to Bush’s 2000 campaign. Bush returned the favor by supporting a law President Clinton vetoed in 1999, which does not allow people who file bankruptcy to avoid paying their credit card debt. The law is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars for MBNA and other credit card companies.
The recent Medicare bill passed by Congress will cost $400 million in the first ten years and $1 trillion over the next decade. To find the influence of special interest campaign donors in this bill you don’t have to look very hard. Republicans, and quite a few Democrats, supported a provision forbidding the government from negotiating lower drug prices for seniors. Drug manufacturers stand to make millions selling drugs, at the highest possible price, to the 40 million Medicare recipients – taxpayers are left with holding the bill.
With the rich and powerful purchasing influence in DC, who is standing up for the rest of us? When Bush pushes legislation that helps the polluter to pollute more, is he looking out for your best interest? When Republicans push deregulation of the energy industry, and companies like Enron manipulate the energy market as they did in California, whose interests were they looking out for?
The public campaign laws need to be reformed and participation in the public campaign funding process must be compulsory. Critics of campaign finance reform are those who stand to benefit from the status quo. Fixing the current system and leveling the playing field will force candidates to run on their ideas, not their special interests.